This book must have one of the most disturbing covers of any I have any read. Many a startled glance I have received whilst reading in public places, I can tell you. If you are considering getting this book but the cover is putting you off, rest assured that it has now been re-issued with less horific cover art!
It has taken me quite a while to get through this collection, despite there being less than three hundred pages. It contains no less than fifty-one stories so that gives you an idea of how short many of them are. That being said, these are not light and easy reads. It's not the prose which is easy going enough given the time in which these stories were written. It's the density of the text itself that demands full concentration so that all pertinent facts are grasped allowing one to get the full import of the conclusions reached. In my opinion, you do not want to read more than a few of these at a time. I certainly would not have wanted to read the entire collection without breaks.
Many of these stories are set in and around the American civil war and explore the bitter, harshness of life. Cosmic balance is maintained however because bad things that people do are innevitably punished, by supernatural forces beyond the grave if necessary.
Some of the stories really touched me, betraying flashes of Bierce's brilliance while others just left me cold. Sometimes I felt that my own lack of concentration was at fault for failing to grasp the full meaning behind the story while at other times I felt it was just that they had dated poorly, the effect being somewhat less shocking today than it might have been at the time. The themes were quite repetative but again, that criticism would be somewhat dispersed by breaking up the reading of this collection.
A good sampling of a talented writer with a somewhat bleak view of life that dominated his work.